Coastal Hazard Mitigation Planning in North Carolina: Policy Analysis and Recommendations for a Resilient Coastline
Gitt, Sarah E.
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The coastal region of North Carolina encompasses the 20 coastal counties bordering the Atlantic Ocean and the Albemarle and Pamlico sounds, as shown in Figure 1.1. The population in this region of North Carolina has grown considerably in the last 20 years, from 682,356 persons in 1990 to an estimated 941,053 persons in 2009, an increase of 38 percent (United States Census Bureau, 2010). The 3,375-mile tidal shoreline of the region and large portions of inland areas are highly susceptible to the hazards of hurricanes and sea-level rise; the 320-mile ocean coastline is also greatly affected by long-term beach erosion and inlet migration. Since 1960, fourteen hurricanes have made direct landfall along the North Carolina coast, and eleven of those storms were category 3 or greater (NOAA, 2010). Hurricanes and other coastal hazards such as nor’easters and inlet migration have had a destructive and costly impact on this coastal region of the State, totaling over $2.7 billion (2009 values) in property damage since 1960. Over 90% of this cost is from property damage resulting from events between 1990 and 2009 (Hazards & Vulnerability Research Institute, 2010). This huge increase in property damage between 1960 to 1990 and 1990 to present is likely due to an increase in the number and intensity of storms affecting the region and the rapid increase in human development along the coast. North Carolina is frequently cited as a state with progressive coastal hazard planning (Berke, 1998; Berke & French, 1994; Burby & May, 1997; Godschalk, 1989, 1999; Norton, 2005a; Owens, 1985), but are the policies actually enforced and if so, do they work? If not, what can state and local coastal planners change to make their communities as safe and resilient as possible? The objective of this report is to explore and evaluate the current policy framework for coastal hazard mitigation planning in North Carolina and make policy recommendations based on best practices that can help the State’s coastal areas become more resilient to the impacts of hurricanes, floods, and sea-level rise. In particular, this paper will focus on how integrating local and state hazard mitigation plans with local comprehensive plans can prioritize and strengthen hazard mitigation efforts in the State of North Carolina and beyond.